The Frame Up

Nixon: “I had Hiss convicted before he ever reached the grand jury.”i

During the 1948 presidential election campaign, the Republican National Committee urged the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), “to set up spy order to put the heat on Harry Truman.”

Richard Nixon, a freshman congressman from California, would become the brains behind this HUAC campaign.ii

In August 1948, newspapers across the United States carried public accusations by ex-Communist Whittaker Chambers – now a rabid anti-Communist - testifying before HUAC that Alger Hiss was a Communist.
Nixon planned to “convict the sonofabitch in the press.”iii He labelled Hiss “the accused”, leaked fabricated versions of secret HUAC testimony to the press, made up a secret witness to corroborate Chambers’s story, claimed all of Chambers’s testimony checked out and that he himself was on the verge of cracking open “the whole spy case”. iv

Chambers, the sole witness against Hiss, acknowledged that he had perjured himself before the FBI, the grand jury and HUAC.

Chambers swore under oath that he’d stopped spying for the Communist underground in 1937. After two-and-a half hours of off-the-record testimony during a secret HUAC hearing, he changed, the date of his defection from 1937 to 1938. Subsequently he turned over papers which he claimed were top secret documents that Hiss had given him for transmission to the Soviets. All are dated 1938.

First came the Baltimore Documents, which were shown to Hiss’s lawyers. Hiss insisted they be turned over to the Justice Department; Justice agreed with him and his lawyers that they were not secret at all, much less top secret.

Then came the Pumpkin Papers: 2 rolls of film and 3 canisters. Nixon told the grand jury that the films were of top secret documents. Assistant Secretary of State Sayre testified that they were not remotely secret.vNixon then refused to disclose the canisters, claiming they proved the “greatest treason conspiracy in American history”.

They turned out to be pages from maintenance manuals on the public shelves of the Bureau of Standards library.

FOIA searches reveal further evidence of corruption, including obstruction of justice, forgery of evidence, meetings between the prosecution and a private investigator ostensibly working for the defense; the Hiss defense team was wiretapped, mail between Hiss and his lawyers intercepted, Chambers’s many confessions withheld, exculpatory evidence from other witnesses withheld.


iWilliam H. Harbaugh, Lawyer’s Lawyer: The Life of John W. Davis (New, Oxford University Press, 1973) p.447.

iiIbid., p.447.

iiiStanley Ir Kulter, Abuse of Power: The New Nixon Tapes, (London: The Free Press, 1997), p.10, Nixon tapes, July 1, 1971, 8.45-9.52 am.

ivWilliam Reuben, The Honourable Mr Nixon and the Alger Hiss Case (New York: Action Books, 1957), p.17.